MILAN－Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice on his first start in two months as AC Milan beat Cagliari 2-0 on Monday to pull ahead of city rival Inter at the top of Serie A.
Ibrahimovic, 39, netted the first from the penalty spot after seven minutes, and added a second just after the break in Sardinia.
Milan, targeting its first league title since 2011 when Ibrahimovic was in his first stint with the team, pulls three points ahead of Inter which beat champion Juventus 2-0 in the San Siro on Sunday.
"This victory is a sign above all to ourselves more than Inter," said coach Stefano Pioli.
"We all want to bring Milan back to the top. The team will do everything from here to the end.
"Now we have an important game against Atalanta (on Saturday), we focus on that, then in March and April we will see where we are."
Ibrahimovic proved he has returned to his best after injury, with the Rossoneri set to sign former Juventus and Bayern Munich forward Mario Mandzukic to help their title push.
"Ibra will take care of keeping him (Mandzukic) at bay," joked Pioli.
The Swede brought his tally to 12 goals in eight games with five doubles, including a brace on Nov 22 against Napoli, when he picked up the thigh injury which sidelined him.
Milan shook off the absences of defender Theo Hernandez and midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu who tested positive for coronavirus.
The visitor quickly took control of the game after Cagliari defender Charalampos Lykogiannis fouled Ibrahimovic.
Despite missing twice from the spot before his injury, Ibrahimovic decided to take the spot-kick ahead of regular penalty-taker Franck Kessie.
Cagliari goalkeeper Alessio Cragno cleared a long-range Davide Calabria effort after 24 minutes, with the Italy defender hitting the post 10 minutes later.
After the interval, Ibrahimovic hit the net by connecting with Calabria's long-range effort, with the goal confirmed after a VAR review.
Milan held its advantage despite playing the final 16 minutes a man down after Alexis Saelemaekers was sent off for two bookings, ten minutes after coming off the bench.
Cagliari, just above the relegation zone in 17th position, falls to its fifth consecutive defeat on an 11-match winless run stretching back to Nov 7.
Milan next plays sixth-placed Atalanta to keep its push for a 19th Scudetto and return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2013-2014 season on track.
'One more weapon'
Pioli welcomed the arrival of 34-year-old Mandzukic as "one more weapon".
"I'm happy, the more strong players we have the better," said Pioli.
"I talked to him, he's motivated. Maybe it will take some time for him to get in shape because he hasn't played for a while, but he's a winner."
Ibrahimovic added: "I'm happy, we'll now be two to scare the opponents.
"We're doing well, almost halfway through the championship.
"Now the most difficult matches are starting, it'll be a tough program, but with Mandzukic and (Soualiho) Meite－and I don't know if others arrive－we'll have more players available for the coach to rotate."